The first Melbourne Cup was run on Thursday 7 November 1861 and won by the Sydney horse Archer. The Argus reported that ‘The refreshment booths drove a thriving trade throughout the day, and the refreshment rooms of the grand stand, where Messrs. Spiers and Pond were the caterers, were also largely patronized and the good things of their providing met with general approval.’
Spiers and Pond were noted caterers and event managers of their day. Both Felix William Spiers and Christopher Pond were English born. They met in Melbourne where, in 1851, they set up a restaurant called The Shakespeare Grill Room at the Melbourne National Hotel, catering for gold miners. Their expertise was not in cooking, but in management and self-promotion; Spiers was an accountant while Pond was the front-of-house host.
In 1857 Spiers and Pond acquired the lease to the Café de Paris at the Theatre Royale. British railway historian David Turner quotes an account of the day, by a Professor Anderson, describing the restaurant as follows:
‘Above the bars, and over the gateway you enter, is the Café de Paris, containing a salon, far superior in decoration and appointments to any I know of among the restaurants of London, and a coffee and smoking room fitted up with as much taste and elegance as you will meet in Paris…You may dine here in as much style as anywhere “at home,” and be served with a cut from a hot joint, just as at Simpson’s on the Strand.’
Catering for the Melbourne Cup was far from being the duo’s only project. They secured the contract to run refreshment rooms for the first Victorian government railways and catered for many other large scale events. Perhaps their most famous Australian venture was organising the first tour to Australia of a national English cricket team, in 1861. They were also involved with the first balloon flight in Australia.
Their success in ‘the colonies’ prompted Spiers and Pond to go on to bigger things. Returning to the UK in 1862, they pioneered railway catering in Britain. By 1867, they were operating 21 refreshment rooms, including 18 servicing the railways. They went on to open restaurants and many hotels throughout England. They diversified into general stores and even had a mail-order business.
The company was incorporated in the late 1870s, after Pond’s death. By 1891, Spiers and Pond employed 6000 people. Spiers died in 1911, but the company continued under its original name until 1969 when it was merged into the Grand Metropolitan hotel company.